ABSTRACT: In the last decade, computer-based systems for the comparison of microscopic firearms evidence have been the subject of considerable research work because of their expected capability of supporting the firearms examiner through the automated analysis of large amounts of evidence. The Integrated Ballistics Identification System, which is based on a two-dimensional representation of the specimen surface, has been widely adopted in forensic laboratories worldwide. More recently, some attempts to develop systems based on three-dimensional (3D) representations of the specimen surface have been made, both in the literature and as industrial products, such as BulletTRAX-3D, but fundamental limitations in achieving fully automated identification remain.
This work analyzes the advantages and disadvantages of a 3D-based approach by proposing an approach and a prototype system for firearms evidence comparison that is based on the acquisition and analysis of the 3D surface topography of specimens, with particular reference to cartridge cases. The concept of 3D virtual comparison microscope is introduced, whose purpose is not to provide fully automated identification, but to show how the availability of 3D shape information can provide a whole new set of verification means, some of them being described and discussed in this work, specifically, visual enhancement tools and quantitative measurement of shape properties, for supporting, not replacing, the firearm examiner in reaching the final decision.